Navigating Mistakes

I can read a map and my sense of direction is decent on a cloudless day. Give me a printer and a mapping web-site and I'll probably get from point A to point B without a problem. Even so, including the optional NAV (Navigation) system with my last car purchase was a treat I've enjoyed more than I had imagined.

I remember the first time I heard my NAV system speak. I affectionately call her "Bossy," and I'm amazed that I feel no resentment despite her constant bossiness. Her voice is difficult to describe; it is steady, yet without the monotone drawl of a bored telemarketer. It's sharp and clear without the nasal "screechiness" of a bad tram intercom. I'm glad she won the NAV system voiceover audition.

When she's on duty, Bossy warns me long before my turn or off ramp arrives. I usually do what she says -usually. I get a little frustrated with her sometimes because she's so obsessed with streets and distances that she tends to be a rude passenger -unwilling to discuss anything except her own interests; she always brings the conversation back to turning right, left, our ETA or some nearby street name she feels like saying.

We all know how frustrating and unforgiving technologic devices can be. It is rare that computers, with their unemotional composition of metal, wires and silicon, can behave in a calming way, but Bossy showed me one.

I was late for an appointment. As I started my car, I patted Bossy on the dashboard and told her to get me to where I needed to go -quickly. She began her voice guidance right out of the garage, her calm, confident instructions flowing well before each turn. I kept checking my watch -still late. On one of the last turns before I reached my destination, I failed to heed Bossy's turn-instruction and my NAV screen blinked. I cringed. Not because of the additional delay, but because it would have been the perfect time for Bossy to rail me for not paying attention. I imagined her voice changing and sneering as she said, "Nice, idiot. Happy? You want the tour route?"

Instead, a new map popped up on the NAV screen and Bossy's voice gave an adjusted instruction in her soothing, inimitable tone. I realized that NAV systems never refer back to mistakes. They are programmed to assess your present situation, and from there, provide you with your next steps -no matter what you did a moment earlier. Mistakes don't affect the tone or volume of their subsequent instructions. If you screw up, they pick up wherever you are, and continue coaching you with the same, calm, soothing voice they used right out of the garage. I got to thinking that some people already have this habit and more people would do well to adopt it.

When I grow up I want to behave like a NAV system -with a better ability to participate in a conversation.

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